Dr Jonny Hanson, Managing Director of Jubilee, a Christian creation care organisation, reflects on this affirmation and explains why they’ve established Northern Ireland’s first community–owned farm.
All over the world, Christians and churches are rediscovering their mandate to care for creation. Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the subject, Laudato si, has reverberated around the planet, from shanty towns to corridors of power. In a similar vein, the World Evangelical Alliance is establishing a Sustainability Centre in Bonn, Germany. All over Ireland, too, Christians and churches are rediscovering their mandate to care for creation.
This concern for the world around us is no passing fad or fancy. Rather, it is a return to the original stewardship mandate of Genesis 1 and 2, where humankind was given the privilege and responsibility of looking after the rest of God’s creation, on God’s terms.
The rest of the biblical narrative also reminds us that creation care matters to God, and therefore to the outlook and mission of God’s people. In Leviticus 25 we see a society where the wellbeing of families and the wellbeing of the land were inextricably linked, and where the economic system existed to serve this end, rather than exploit it. In Colossians 1, we’re reminded of the pre–eminent role of Christ’s resurrection in restoring relationships, including with the non–human creation, ‘making peace by the blood of his cross’ (v. 23).
The latest scientific evidence complements these age–old revealed truths, detailing how God uses creation to care for us as much as he uses us to care for creation. Physical ecosystem services, like pollination, water filtration and the climate, sustain us; without them, human life and activity could not survive on this planet. Cultural ecosystem services, like tasty food, beautiful scenery and beloved pets, delight and inspire us; without them, human life would not thrive on this planet, and our innate need for pleasure, beauty and companionship would not be fully realised.
We at Jubilee exist to work with Christians and churches in Ireland and beyond to care for creation together, to the glory of God. We also work with local communities to achieve this goal, including with people of differing backgrounds and beliefs. Established in 2017 after several years of prayer, planning and consultation, we define creation care as environmental and agricultural stewardship that incorporates flourishing and fairness, welfare and wellbeing. In seeking to implement this holistic vision, our mission is to practice and promote care farming, community–supported agriculture (CSA), and conservation education and engagement.
For the first six months of 2018, we were able to use a temporary site in the Co. Antrim port town of Larne. In that short space of time we achieved a great deal of exciting things. Over 100 volunteers attended one of our monthly community volunteer days. Almost 100 primary school–age children attended one of our curriculum–based nature education classes. Twenty–four families each purchased a subscription to our pig club and received a quarter pig’s worth of free–range pork in return. And at our Bioblitz Festival of Science and Nature in June 2018, we welcomed more than 400 members of the public to participate in a 24 hour programme of walks, talks and activities, with traditional music and a free range hog roast thrown in for good measure.
Fast forward to a year later and we have purchased a permanent home, a small 13.5 acre farm outside Larne. Here we can bring our ambitious plans for Jubilee Farm to fruition, with organic pigs, poultry, goats and vegetables, plus an internship programme, and even “glamping” in due course. As a Community Benefit Society – a form of cooperative social enterprise – we raised this money via a community share offer, making this the first community–owned farm in Northern Ireland. With 156 member–owners from all walks of life and all parts of both Northern Ireland and the world, we’re keen to put the culture back into agriculture, and connect it directly to environmental stewardship. We’ve already hosted a joint meeting of the UK and Ireland CSA networks, called CSA Across Borders. Our CARE – Care farming for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and the Environment – project, funded by various parts of the Irish Church, hosts 3–4 refugees and asylum seekers every week, who come for a day’s volunteering in the great outdoors. We’re also open for church, school and community group visits to or from Jubilee Farm.
All over the world and all over Ireland, Christians and churches are rediscovering their mandate to care for creation. Using our spaces to effect and communicate a transition to creation–sustaining lives is a vital step.
Find out more about Jubilee and Jubilee Farm at www.jubilee.coop